Teeth tore at throats; blood sprayed across the forest floor, staining the fallen leaves with droplets of ochre. Anguished squeals that faded into final guttural gasps echoed throughout the wood; seemingly endless, the frenzy continued until at last silence fell upon the clearing.
The wolves stood aghast, stopped dead in their tracks with looks of utter bewilderment etched upon their usually menacing faces. Equally bemused were the foxes. Along the edge of the clearing were the scattered bodies of countless rabbits, their throats mercilessly torn from their lifeless forms. In amongst this sea of devastation and coated from snout to tail in gore stood Gerald.
“What is the meaning of this?” Bellowed Great Oak, her fury causing her branches to tremble and shake with rage. “This is an amnesty. When animals come to this clearing they are promised to remain free from harm unless judgement has been passed, yet you kill without mercy.”
Gerald cocked his head calmly to one side. “All I have done is righted a wrong. There should never have been this many rabbits. What I have done was a kindness to them. There is not enough food here for so many rabbits and they would have died a slow and painful death, harming the Wilderwood much more before they did so. Surely it is better this way?”
“So you think that doing this means that you will be spared? You have broken our rules.” Great Oak looked grim and the wolves encroached upon the blood-soaked Gerald.
“Have I?” The calmness in Gerald’s voice caused Great Oak to pause for thought. With a sudden cacophony of buzzing, humming and the fluttering of tiny wings, a great swarm of insects took to the air, blinding the animals that stood within the clearing, causing them to whine and mew with fright. As quickly as the eruption of insects appeared, the air cleared once more as the insects settled upon Great Oak’s mighty limbs, covering them with what seemed like one great seething, writhing mass. Then the insects began to whisper. Great Oak’s wizened face grew ever more thoughtful as the news from her tiny messengers filtered through.
“My many eyes say that you did not take food from the farms of men, and that you stayed here and hunted. Why did you not join your friends?”
“I am part of the Wilderwood and the Wilderwood is part of me,” replied Gerald. “These other foxes are vain and greedy creatures, but killing them will not help the Wilderwood. The cubs are young and do not know how to hunt yet, plus many will not survive without the adults to protect them, and while they learn how to hunt the rabbits will continue to breed. Although I have killed many today their numbers are still too great.” Gerald stared fearlessly into the knots of Great Oak’s eyes.
“They have broken the rules of the Wilderwood; they have taken without giving. They must be punished.”
“I quite agree, and I have a rather interesting suggestion.” The corners of Gerald’s mouth curled into a cunning smirk.
“And what is it that you suggest, little fox?” asked Great Oak with a tone of genuine curiosity.
Gerald simply smiled and leant towards a leaf that hung from the nearest of Great Oak’s branches and whispered.
The ground began to shake and rumble as if the earth beneath them were ready to shatter and break apart. Animals tried to flee but wherever they ran the ground continued to tremble until they tripped and fell or tumbled into another of the many score of panicking creatures. One by one realisation dawned upon them; Great Oak was laughing.
When the rumbling eventually subsided into what must have been a chuckle, Great Oak’s leaves began to rustle and whisper. A tiny robin descended from somewhere amidst the canopy and landed gracefully upon Uthor’s nose. Uthor stared back at the creature quizzically, wondering why the bird would endanger itself in such a way. The bird simply cocked its head to one side and leant forward, plucking a single hair from Uthor’s snout causing him to yelp with pain. Then one by one more and more birds descended upon the stricken foxes, who were still penned in by the ring of wolves and had nowhere to run.
Within moments the foxes were engulfed: sparrows, magpies, swallows and martins; each and every bird that lived within the forest came to rest upon the foxes, causing them to buckle under the weight. Not a patch of fox was now visible as tiny beaks dipped and plucked ceaselessly. The foxes yelped and whined as they rolled on the muddy forest floor, pleading for mercy; though their cries fell upon deaf ears. Birds would occasionally leave the flock that enveloped the forlorn foxes, each with tufts of coppery fur clasped within its beak. The birds would then take the fur and weave it together as if it were one of their nests. The foxes screamed while the birds plucked and weaved and then the foxes screamed some more.
No silence that has fallen in any place in any time has ever been quite like the one that fell upon that clearing at the moment that the great flock parted; for this silence was deafening.
The whole of the Wilderwood stood by watching; dumbstruck onlookers who knew neither what to do nor say. The foxes lay whimpering on the ground as the flock finally broke and once again became a plethora of seemingly harmless individuals. –As the birds fluttered and tweeted innocuously it was hard to imagine them as the great singular beast that had tormented the foxes only moments before.